October 1, 2020

7 min read

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Covid-weary consumers are facing a holiday season of continued distancing and digital—and they’re craving a more connected experience. Any brand that ignores that and approaches the holidays the same as years past will not be successful.  

For many, Holiday 2020 feels more looming than promising: 51 percent of people report they don’t expect to spend it with family, while 75 percent say it’s the most difficult time to be without family—and 47 percent say they’d break the rules to spend it together.

Brands need to respond to this. They need to think hard about the role they play in consumers’ holiday experience—and find ways they can elevate that experience into something more heartfelt and human.

To ignore this collective consumer malaise and take a business-as-usual approach is to invite irrelevance and wave goodbye to market share.  The solution lies in being present at each moment of the customer’s journey, and scaling those moments according to retailer, location, and footprint.

Make the line the destination

While a warm summer sun can make lining up almost enjoyable, stamping and shuffling your feet on a cold December sidewalk could kill a holiday mood pretty quickly. What if retailers made the gathering outside as much fun as the shopping inside? Imagine approaching your favourite store to discover a mini-Christmas market: Artisanal stalls and merchandise displays are set against a backdrop of artfully decorated windows—think The Bay, which continues to draw annual hordes to its holiday windows. You arrive at the market entrance to be greeted by the wafting scents of hot chocolate and apple cider. A store associate welcomes you and hands you a number, then invites you to stroll and shop until your number is called. Imagine if storefronts along an entire street took this approach. Larger stores might inspire smaller ones—or vice versa. These spaces could host special events: a corporate Kris Kringle cocktail party, warmed up with space heaters and a live band; or a friendly mixology competition held by local establishments. It’s an opportunity for retailers to extend their reach—literally and figuratively—while giving consumers the chance to see neighbourhoods and local businesses in a different light.

Bring the flexibility of online into the physical store

There’s no doubt the ability to purchase and deliver an item with a few taps on your phone is immensely convenient. So how about equipping consumers to do that as they shop in-store? Imagine a bubble of shoppers out browsing the holiday displays. They come across various items that tick their gift lists. Instead of lining up to make their purchases, while forcing others to wait around, they simply use their phone to scan the item and add it to their online registry—gifts they intend to give to others, and ideas for themselves that they share with their circle. They can have gifts delivered to their homes or wrapped and sent directly to recipients. For consumers, it marries the best of digital enablement with people’s natural inclination to see, experience, and commune. They have the fun of effortlessly scanning and “remembering” items they like, and they receive relevant production information and recommendations based on their Favourites list. For retailers, meanwhile, it encourages customers to expand their baskets, and it drives the collection of valuable shopper data—data that can be used to strengthen customer intimacy, in turn supporting more targeted promotions, new seasonal products, and more personalized loyalty offers.

Turn online transactions into human interactions

It’s no surprise than 85 percent of retailers believe online sales will increase this holiday season. However, while online shopping clearly satisfies a need—and has been a lifesaver for many of us during the pandemic—when it comes to gift-giving, there is a wide emotional gap between a parcel dropped on a doorstep and being able to physically present a gift and see it opened. Imagine this instead: The sender includes with the purchase a personalized video message. Activated through a QR code on the package, it expresses the sender’s sentiments, then requests access to the recipient’s camera to record the gift-opening and ping it back. It adds a totally new dimension to online gifting. And it would go a long way to bridging that emotional gap and enabling people at both ends to experience more of the pleasure of human interaction and celebration. The holidays aren’t going anywhere—nor are consumers’ very human desires to celebrate and be together. Retailers need to acknowledge this. They need to use this humanity as their marketing guide. Doing so could mean the difference between those brands who win hearts—and wallets—and those who emerge in the new year wondering where their customers went.